Any delicatessen worth its Himalayan sea salt will no doubt have a shelf stocked with verjuice these days.
Verjuice, verjus or "vert jus" derives from the French "vert jus" or "verjus", and literally means "green juice". Traditionally made from crab apples or other sour fruit, many New Zealand wineries are having a crack at creating their own from unripe wine grapes - and the results are exciting.
You may have heard winemakers use the term "fruit thinning", which is when some of the crop - sometimes up to half - is discarded in order to concentrate the flavours in the grapes which remain on the vine.
Too much fruit on your vines means the flavours can be diluted, resulting in average quality wine.
Rather than drop this unripe fruit on the ground, some producers collect it, press it and stabilise it rapidly so it doesn't get a chance to ferment, and then bottle it for sale.
It's a great way to experience the pure taste of different varieties of grapes before they're transformed into wine; the ultra-crisp, lip-smacking texture means verjuice can replace anything you would normally add lemon juice or vinegar to, plus it has loads of other uses. When I'm pansearing chicken or fish, a splash of verjuice is a brilliant de-glazer and it provides the base for creating a superb sauce from the meat juices.
In the past I've only been able to source verjuice made from riesling or red wine, but recently I found one made from chardonnay, grown organically and biodynamically by Geoff and Nicola Wright at Wright's Vineyard in Gisborne.
It was superb, and I've been using it regularly as a dressing with Dijon mustard, salt and pepper, which I mix through sauteed cannellini beans, softened leeks and bacon.
"The verjuice was my wife's idea," says Geoff, who explains that having three kids in close succession had meant Nicola taking long breaks from enjoying their wine, so verjuice was a great non-alcoholic alternative.
"Our family enjoys it so much our kids have named our cat after our verjuice - calling him Chardonnay." (If it has kittens, they could call one "Purr-juice.") "At our cellar door, our kids can now enjoy a glass of verjuice with customers," he adds.
Why chardonnay? "Because it just gives the verjuice so much delicious flavour and with less tannin built into the juice as compared to, say, a red wine verjuice," says Geoff.
"I personally love it just by itself; it's just so refreshing, clean and tasty."
Verjuice must be refrigerated after opening and will keep for one to three months, depending on fridge temperature.
WRIGHT'S ORGANIC CHARDONNAY VERJUICE 2012, $19.95
It's chardonnay but not as we know it.
Created from pressing chardonnay grapes before they become completely ripe in order to retain some tart, tangy acidity, it's then filtered and bottled without fermentation.
Non-alcoholic, but with a distinct crab-apple, pear and quince-like character, this is an absolutely fantastic addition to any pantry.
There's a splash of natural sweetness, so it's perfect as a non-alcoholic drink, to poach stone fruit or as a tasty replacement for vinegar or lemon juice in any recipe.
It will complement and enhance many dishes. If you're stuck for ideas, Wright's has a list of recipes featuring verjuice on its web page www.wrightswines.co.nz under "recipes with wine".
Here are a couple that I've tried and really enjoyed.
BABY BEETROOT WITH VERJUICE
Salt and black pepper
Boil or roast beetroot, removing outer skin. If beetroot are large, then halve or quarter. While still very hot, slosh over Wright's verjuice and allow to sizzle. Dress with good olive oil, oregano, salt and black pepper.
POACHED FRUIT IN VERJUICE CARAMEL SAUCE
Poached pears, peaches, nectarines, apples and other seasonal fruit
Caramel sauce: 100g butter, 4 tbsp honey, 1 cup cream and 6 tbsp Wright's verjuice
Cook until caramelised - do not boil. Can use as topping over vanilla icecream. Or add hazelnuts or almonds and turn out on to a baking sheet and allow to cool, then crack into pieces for a yummy praline.
ORMOND VALLEY DONKEY DRINK
1/2 cup ginger beer, 1/2 cup verjuice and vodka - yum.